It’s been uncharacteristically quiet inside Princeton Salon and Spa since it reopened earlier this month.
The typical background noise of blow dryers and unattended guests chatting in the waiting area has gone away, leaving masked, goggled and gloved stylists to work in relative calm. Karen Gayton, CEO of Princeton Salon and Spa, said the atypically serene atmosphere in the downtown Gainesville building has been one of the most notable changes in operation since salons and barbershops received the go-ahead to reopen.
“It’s definitely a more calm, spa-like experience in the salon vs. a fast-paced salon environment,” Gayton said.
The safety guidelines for reopening barber and cosmetology salons — set by the the Georgia State Board of Cosmetologists and Barbers — requires all hair cutting establishments to limit patrons allowed in buildings, and Gayton chose to ban the use of blow dryers in her salon to help stem the spread of germs inside Princeton Salon and Spa.
That, combined with strict cleaning requirements for work stations between each client has slowed things down for stylists and barbers getting back to work. The adjustment has been difficult for some businesses to get used to.
“Our culture has died,” said Angelica Tabor-Fells, owner of Level Up Haircuts for Men off Shallowford Road in Gainesville. “Normally, if you were to come to Level Up, there’s a team of seven of us. We would all be in here laughing. We know your name. It’s what you perceive as your local barber shop. It’s your outlet. You get to come in, hang out, talk crazy, have fun. Now it’s basically you’re in, you get your hair cut, and we’re getting you right back out.”
Working while wearing adequate personal protective equipment has also been a major change in the business..
State safety guidelines require all barbers and stylists to wear masks and use fresh neck strips and covering capes for each new customer, but other PPE like goggles and face shields are also recommended to ensure the safety of all barbershop and salon employees.
Gayton said one of the toughest unforeseen challenges Princeton Salon and Spa has faced has been the constant washing and sanitization of various PPE.
“Extra towels, linens, masks, aprons, gloves,” she said. “All the supplies that we need to not use the same one more than once of anything has been a different experience.”
Level Up and Princeton Salon and Spa are also operating under “No mask, no service” policies but are providing masks to customers who do not have their own.
Tabor-Fells said she’s received some pushback for the decision but has managed to convince every customer Level Up has served since reopening to follow the new protocol.
“I’ve heard all kinds of excuses, like ‘Oh, I’m claustrophobic,’” she said. “I said, ‘I like living. I’m glad you’re claustrophobic, but I don’t want to breathe your cooties.’”
Outside of guidelines and regulations put in place by the state, the general fear of returning to a job that requires so much close contact with others has been a real impediment to barbershops and salons.
Sanchez Harris, owner of High Definition Studio and Barbershop on E.E. Butler Parkway in Gainesville, said some of the barbershop’s regulars in need of haircuts have been hesitant to return for fear of catching the virus. Employees, including Harris himself, have felt some of that fear, too.
“It was kind of scary when we went back,” he said. “Because you had all the cases going through the hospital, and then, of course, when you go on the social media you see people dying from it. You actually have people that you know in your social group dying from COVID. So it was real scary.”
Through all the difficulties of balancing customer and employee safety with providing a high level of service, Harris said the relationship between his barbers and their clients has actually started to grow stronger over the past couple of weeks.
With noise and distractions at an all-time low, interaction between barbers and stylists and customers has grown more personal. And in a world where in-person conversations are getting more and more rare, a chat with your regular barber or hair stylist is more valuable than ever.
“It’s more personal, because you don’t have the traffic flow that we would have had if there wasn’t a virus,” Harris said. “It’s a more personal experience. When something happens like this, a pandemic, everyone seems to want to pull together and talk and understand each other.”